SUCCESS IS IN THE MIND PODCAST: Listen to Hugo Tilmouth – ChargedUp turned CleanedUp Interview

Hugo Tilmouth_SIITM Wall Post

How do you make £1million of revenue in 1 week during a global pandemic? Hugo Tilmouth tells us how…

Founder and Entrepreneur Oliver Bruce speaks with owner operator entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders about their failures, barriers, mistakes, passion and persistence to achieve their vision. 

University engineering graduate turned entrepreneur Hugo Tilmouth, like many of us, never predicted the global pandemic of 2020.

Raising £3.5million in seed funding after graduating from university, Hugo launched ChargedUp, a mobile phone charging station allowing users to rent battery packs and return them to venues of their choice. In March of 2020 his ‘normal’ business halted rather abruptly putting everything on the line…

Pivoting swiftly and rebranding to ‘CleanedUp’ Hugo and his team turned their potentially doomed business into a proposition offering hand sanitiser stations manufactured through their network and distributed to venues across the UK. In their first week of trading CleanedUp generated over £1m worth of revenue.

CleanedUp has since sold over 30,000 sanitiser stations to locations across the UK whilst hiring an additional 25 staff and going through a rebrand. ChargedUp is still very much operational.

You can listen to the latest podcast with Hugo Tilmouth – ChargedUp turned CleanedUp Interview here via your preferred provider either Apple or Spotify

Apple – E4: Success Is In The Mind: Hugo Tilmouth – ChargedUp turned CleanedUp Interview

Spotify – E4: Success Is In The Mind: Hugo Tilmouth – ChargedUp turned CleanedUp Interview

Full transcript below

Hugo Tilmouth:

Don’t look at people like me as some, you know, genius that can figure out how to create a multi-million pound business. I’m just, you know, a normal guy who’s just figuring stuff out every single day, and it’s really just about starting and just bashing down those walls as they come up. And that’s what’s fun about our jobs, I guess.

Oliver Bruce:

Success Is In The Mind is proud to have partnered with, and be supported by, the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and Community, a programme that recognises, celebrates, supports, encourages and champions entrepreneurs in Great Britain. Hello, and welcome to another episode of Success Is In The Mind with me, Oliver, Bruce. If you’re new to the show, we’ll be discussing with current owner entrepreneurs, their failures, mistakes, passion, and continued persistence in the face of business adversity. Not all entrepreneurs have completed their vision just yet. Some are just starting out. I want to give you a sense of business reality in a world full of idealism. What does it take to become successful, to grow a brand, or to start a business? Join me to find out from those that are currently doing just that. Today I’m joined by founder and CEO of ChargedUp a UK business, calling themselves the Boris Bike of mobile charging. ChargedUp are developing a network of vending machines across 50 European cities, which allows users to borrow portable battery banks, use them for as long as they need and return them to a station or venue of their choice. Having raised significant seed capital to start ChargedUp, things changed rather rapidly in the first few weeks of lockdown, after the ChargedUp team were set to roll out 150 charging stations to an airport in the UK. The downturn in footfall and Hugo’s entrepreneurial spirit saw him pivot rather swiftly and quite elegantly into the world of sanitisation. It is at this point that the aptly named CleanedUp was born. CleanedUp in its first 30 days saw revenue of over £1 million, with over 7,000 sanitiser stations sold to what Hugo calls dream clients. Since then, they’ve sold over 30,000 stations to some of the country’s biggest brands and locations. With a rebrand to the Up Company on the horizon and some exciting new services in the pipeline; Hugo welcome to the show.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Thank you so much for having me today. It’s great to be on. And what an apt introduction for the madness that has happened over the last four months.

Oliver Bruce:

It has been utter, utter madness, but you guys have had a good time of it.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah, well, we’ve tried to- we’ve ridden the wave, I guess, of what’s been going on. It started not quite so well, but I would say, as you alluded to, it’s turned into something of a positive experience for us as a company. And, you know, all the sanitisation that we’ve been able to help out with has actually ended up being a positive for the company in general.

Oliver Bruce:

Obviously you guys started off having raised finance whilst you were at university. You’ve gone through with the business called obviously ChargedUp, which was going from strength to strength. Then suddenly the pandemic hit and you were going to deliver these stations, but obviously you couldn’t because the footfall was down. What went through your mind at the point that you realised actually this pandemic might be here for awhile?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Well it was very early days in the lockdown situation, when we got our call, we were going into one of the major airports in the UK with our charging stations and they gave us a call and said, you know, “it’s starting to look a little bit shaky now. We’re expecting an announcement to come out any day. I actually don’t think it would be sensible to send the units because they might actually end up not being able to be installed once you get to the other end”. And so we pulled the plug on that project literally three days before lockdown then did actually happen. So it was very lucky that we pulled it because they would have been stuck in some airport carpark somewhere and who knows what would have happened to them. But the concept for this phone charging is obviously putting phone chargers into high footfall locations in the public spaces. And clearly when we saw the need of the world change overnight to needing to feel safe when they’re out and about and not needing to charge their phones, because everyone’s spending time at home, we thought, what can we do to actually help in this situation? So we decided to convert those 150 units into hand sanitising dispenser stations. At the same time, we were trying to figure out how to produce them. We were also trying to figure out how to get sanitiser because I’m sure everyone knows there was this complete desert of sanitiser at the time. Everyone was buying it all up, selling it for crazy prices and doing all sorts of kind of cowboyish behaviour, in the early days of lockdown. And we were also very lucky that we have relationships with a lot of breweries and a lot of gin distilleries through the ChargedUp network. This led on to us having conversations with them, and they actually ended up switching their supply, because they weren’t selling any gin at the time, to sanitiser. And that’s how we got our first supply chain for the CleanedUp project. While this was going on, we started selling the CleanedUp stations, and we were very lucky in that no one else really was able to produce them quick enough, and based in the UK. So we went from 150 units sold out, within literally a matter of days, to thousands of units being sold out and being on back order for weeks and weeks, and eventually we got up to about a four week lead time on all of our products, just because the demand was so high. And we were ramping up our production, but people just kept buying more and more. And we ended up at a point where we were producing 10,000 units per week. And that actually just couldn’t keep up with the demand in the market. It’s been a pretty crazy ride so far. And we’re still on the wave right now. So exciting times, I guess.

Oliver Bruce:

It is! And you’re obviouslya finalist in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards as a pivot entrepreneur of the year. I believe?

Hugo Tilmouth:

That’s it. I believe you are as well? So congratulations on getting into that.

Oliver Bruce:

Hugo I am, but frankly, I think I’ve met my match and I have every, you know, respect for you when you walk up there and win, which I imagine you will. But GBA, they obviously sponsor this and they’re quite pleased that you’ve come on. But if we’re to backtrack slightly before the pandemic, which, you know, no one could foresee, you know back in the day when you were at university, you went to Exeter University, you did a master’s degree in renewable energy and engineering. Obviously you then came up with the concept of ChargedUp at university. You went through with the funding, you went through to get some seed capital. You then graduated with a master’s. How? How did you do all of that?

Hugo Tilmouth:

So, in fact, I had actually graduated by the time I started the business. So it was the idea, the concept, that was at university, but then it was kind of the last three years since I graduated that I’d been building the business. But it has just been a case of just bashing down walls. You know we get up against a wall. How do you produce an app? I’ve never built an app before, so you start Googling, “how do you make an app”? So you start ticking off these things. How do you make hardware? You find someone else in China who could work for you, you then go and find a factory, you assess a load of different factories. You just learn as you go. And that’s all we’ve been doing over the last three years. And we’re making a lot of mistakes along the way. A lot of things don’t go to plan, a lot of things then do go to plan because you just keep persisting and bashing down those walls. And that’s all I can say to, you know, young entrepreneurs who are trying to get into the game is don’t look at people like me as some, you know, genius that can figure out how to create a multi-million pound business. I’m just, you know, a normal guy who’s just figuring stuff out every single day. And it’s really just about starting and just bashing down those walls as they come up. And that’s what’s fun about our jobs, I guess.

Oliver Bruce:

Indeed. And you look at, I suppose, James Dyson, I’m going to liken you, and don’t get too big headed here Hugo, I’m going to liken you to James Dyson, in as much as he, obviously, is an engineer, you did engineering at university. Now that is by definition, a degree in which you solve problems.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Correct.

Oliver Bruce:

You come up with solutions. Did that set you up in good stead with this business? And what would you have done had you not actually started a business?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It’s a very good question. One of the reasons for me starting the business was actually I didn’t quite know what else I would do. It was too obvious for me to start a business, rather than go into any other career. There was no other career where I felt I could do it, you know, three times, four times, five times better than the next guy. So that’s why I started the business, or one of the many reasons I started the business. But I do think engineering is a great degree. Ifnyou’re dead set on going to university, then I do think engineering is a great degree to do, because it does force you to do problem solving on a daily basis, which is what all entrepreneurship is about. You know, it really is just a series of problems that you have to just keep solving. Each day, you walk into the office, something goes wrong, you have to figure out how to sort it. And whether it’s you or one of your team that is just life in a startup. And I absolutely love it. I couldn’t ask for a more fun way to spend my days, but equally I do think the degree has really set me up quite well for going into this world, because it gives you the freedom to figure things out as time goes on.

Oliver Bruce:

Hugo talk to me about how you actually brokered comms with China and sort of set up, I suppose, business with them. Did you have to go out there, meet people, greet people? What was the thought process there and how did it work?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah, it was a very interesting journey, from, you know, the initial days of trying to find someone on the grounds that in itself was actually a very difficult activity. We managed to find an American chap that had moved out to China about 10 years ago, and he actually ended up consulting for us to help us find that first factory. But very quickly after that, once we realised that we thought we had the right factory, it was very important for us to get out there. So, you know, we spent our kind of last 1500 quid on flights and accommodation to get out to China and set off, landed in Shenzhen. It really is a different world. It’s a fascinating place. And I have a lot of time for the way that people work out there and the attitude to entrepreneurship and the kind of “anything is possible” attitude that they’ve got. And we ultimately ended up going out and visiting the factory, taking tours around, and negotiating with them. As a 21 year old at the time, it was quite a surreal experience with a factory full of executives. I think there was about 10 people on their side of the table and then myself and the interpreter on our side. And we were trying to pitch them that we were going to take over Europe for them. Somehow they bought it.

Oliver Bruce:

[laughs] Well, I’m sure they did. Yeah, well- it must’ve been so odd though, I mean, in the pandemic, everybody was looking to China. You’d already looked at China for your previous business, but then you ended up, I suppose, getting everything from the UK for CleanedUp. I suppose, you’ve observed the masses and done the opposite. Did that give you a level of advantage?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Definitely. It would not have been possible to do CleanedUp if it wasn’t for our UK manufacturer. It was not a case of price at that point. It was all about lead time. So if you could produce in the UK, you could have a much quicker turnaround time, and you could actually be competitive, that would win you every deal. And that’s how we were able to win all of these big operators.

Oliver Bruce:

So moving forwards, as it becomes more commoditized, do you think China’s going to be a more valuable proposition for CleanedUp because the price has to go down?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I think that’s probably correct. Yeah. As time goes on, people are willing to accept a longer lead time. But you know, if you walk around most streets in the UK, most people now have a sanitiser dispenser. So that market is actually kind of drying up as we speak, because everyone just rushed out to buy them in the early days of lockdown. So now it’s about providing a high quality refill and that’s what we’ve been doing. And that’s why we’ve been working with a UK based medical grade manufacturer in order to give the best product possible.

Oliver Bruce:

So coming out of university, having never run a business before- you’ve done a lot of internships, had a lot of experience in multiple different sectors. How did you, I suppose, figure out what you needed to do to start and structure a business correctly to be successful?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Ultimately, it’s just a case of trial and error, really. You can read an awful lot online, you can read a lot of books about it, but you actually just have to go out there and start doing it. And ultimately that is the real way to figure out what you can and can’t do. And you know we ultimately just kept, you know, pushing forward and figuring things out as we went along and ultimately we managed to get through it. So it can’t be that difficult.

Oliver Bruce:

[laughs] What was your biggest mistake, Hugo, when you first started both businesses?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It’s a great question. I think the focus for us is not about those mistakes that we’ve made. It’s about how we’ve managed to just keep blasting through, because ultimately you make a mistake every week, you know, that would be impossible not to do. But it’s really about how you respond to those. And if you’re able to just keep pushing forward, then you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur. It’s all about grit and determination at the end of the day.

Oliver Bruce:

So running both ChargedUp and CleanedUp, how much of it do you put down to your vision and your passion and how much do you put it down to actually having the correct team around you?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I would say, you know, realistically I make up about 1% of the value in this company. It is really about the team and their ability to solve problems, figure out new ways to do things and keep pushing forward. Because if it was all down to me, we would never have got anywhere. It’s about trusting and growing a brilliant team that can be autonomous, independent. You know, when we switched to fully remote, it was a great test for the team. And obviously they’ve managed to be actually even more productive than when they were just in the office. So, you know, it’s an absolute testament to the team, how brilliant they are that we’ve been able to push through all of this.

Oliver Bruce:

From a management standpoint, you’ve worked for people, you’ve been an intern at other businesses. How much of that learned experience have you managed to impart into your business from a management standpoint with your own staff?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think it’s all about being very open and honest with the team, you know, if something isn’t going quite correct, you just have to bring it up quickly, in a friendly, but also, you know, transparent manner. If you don’t confront issues, they just build and they build over time. So that would be my one bit of advice for anyone trying to learn how to be a manager.

Oliver Bruce:

And were you born an entrepreneur Hugo? Back at Wellington College, did you go through your GCSEs and go, “this is what I want to do”? Or did you just fundamentally want to solve problems?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I think it was a bit of both to be honest. Unfortunately when I was at school, I think I was a bit too busy with Saturday school and-

Oliver Bruce:

[laughs] Oh, you went to that? Oh, that might be why I went so badly wrong.

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] Yeah, it was definitely not my most entrepreneurial years at school, but as soon as I went to university and realised that you can get away with doing only a few hours of lectures a day and a few hours of reading, it really gives you a lot of free time, and when I have free time, I start building things.

Oliver Bruce:

Ah that’s when you realised.

New Speaker:

And that’s when I realised that I was really made for this world. And you know, I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It gives you so much freedom. You’re able to hire great people to do the things that you don’t like doing, and it allows you to just create value, whether it’s through a product or through a service, you know, you can see the world, you can see what’s wrong with it, and you can solve for that. And I just think that that’s a great position to be in.

Oliver Bruce:

What does a typical day then look like for you, from a time and management point of view, which you came to realise at university was so important to having the head space and the ability to grow something. You know, tomorrow, today, yesterday; what does it look like?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It’s an interesting one. We’ve obviously been going through a bit of a transition from, you know, zero in-person meetings to starting to do, you know, coffees and investment chats again, which is great. I love doing that, so I’m very happy that those things are starting to come back. But ultimately a lot of my time is spent, you know, externally to the business, trying to get ourselves into media, or trying to get investors on board, trying to get new partners on board. And then probably about 20% of my time is internal on the team solving problems. And helping the team kind of grow and improve.

Oliver Bruce:

I don’t know, Hugo, if you’ve listened to any of the previous podcasts that we’ve done, but it’s time for one of our, you know, the best part, if you will, the game. The game called “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor (Probably)”. Are you aware of this?

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] I am not! Please, fill me in.

Oliver Bruce:

You’re not, okay. I will do, standby. So essentially what this is, it’s a game around truth or sort of false, I suppose; falsities. So if it’s a true statement, and I’ll read you them in a minute, if it’s a true statement, you need to say “Cleaned up”. Okay?

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] Okay.

Oliver Bruce:

If it’s a false statement, you say “Dirty dog”. All right? So for example, Hugo, and I’m going to read you headlines, so it’s based on your news or press over the last couple of weeks.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Excellent.

Oliver Bruce:

So if I said, “five SME winners of the crisis”, you would say “Cleaned up” because it’s a factual statement, The Times published it. Okay?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Cleaned up.

Oliver Bruce:

Exactly, would be the right answer in that case, in that situation. Now I’ve got 10 questions. You’re really only competing against yourself here, I’ll be honest, but we’ll-

Hugo Tilmouth:

What’s the prize?

Oliver Bruce:

The prize is pride. That’s what it is, pride.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Brilliant.

Oliver Bruce:

So I shall go from the top, and give me your honest opinion. Here we go: “Clean mean crisis machine”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] Yes, cleaned up.

Oliver Bruce:

No, you’re wrong. Actually I made that up. I thought it was brilliant. It’s false, dirty dog. Mind you, I could be a journalist.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Oh god.

Oliver Bruce:

There’s some really impressive ones in here.

New Speaker:

Useless!

Oliver Bruce:

I was genuinely quite proud of this morning when I wrote them. How about this one: “How we turned the challenge of COVID-19 into an opportunity of a lifetime”. Cleaned up or dirty dog?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Ooh. That does sound like cleaned up.

Oliver Bruce:

It would be, yeah it is. It’s from Click, it’s from an article on Click.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Fantastic.

Oliver Bruce:

How about this one: “Company changes business model due to pandemic, and hits 1 million sales in one month”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Well, I think you’ve already quoted that one. So I think that’s cleaned up.

Oliver Bruce:

It’s not the catchiest of headlines though, but you are right. But there you go. That’s the Business Leader Magazine. How about this one: “Two Londoners clean up after flipping their business into sanitiser bays”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I remember that one because I was very confused as to what are sanitiser bays. So, yes, cleaned up.

Oliver Bruce:

I thought the same thing. Sanitiser station, I’m assuming, is the technical term?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah.

Oliver Bruce:

Well, that’s City A.M. There you go. “No dirty money as a startup makes millions”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] I would say dirty dog on that.

New Speaker:

That’s exactly right. Dirty dog. Look at that, you’re getting them all right, apart from one so far. Here you go: “Handy – (brilliant) – handy pivot in the pandemic for entrepreneurs”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Ooh, I’m not sure I’ve seen that one. I’m going to say dirty dog.

Oliver Bruce:

Yah well done. That was, I thought brilliant, but that was me. “Furloughed workers start business during lockdown, now it’s worth a million”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Again, yes. That one is a cleaned up again. ‘Cause they got it wrong! We were not furloughed!

Oliver Bruce:

I was gonna ask you that because you guys weren’t, were you? Some of you guys were, but you weren’t.

Hugo Tilmouth:

No, I think it’s clickbaity, isn’t it?

Oliver Bruce:

It’s also probably illegal now [laughs] but there you go. That was, what was it? For an extra point; what paper? It’s a redtop.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Ooh was that The Mail?

New Speaker:

No it was The Mirror. So that’s why it was rubbish.

New Speaker:

Ah that’s it. Very good [laughs].

Oliver Bruce:

How about this one: “Charging forward on improved hygiene for commuters”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Ooh, that does sound like one. Is that cleaned up?

Oliver Bruce:

That is cleaned up. The Evening Standard.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Excellent.

Oliver Bruce:

And this one here; the most catchy, the most corporate in the world. Here we go: “Every tube station in London now has a hand sanitiser station to combat coronavirus”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I would say cleaned up. Has to be.

Oliver Bruce:

It was. And who was it?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I’m not sure, tell me.

Oliver Bruce:

LBC News, so that’s why it was so wordy.

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] Fantastic. That’s a great synopsis of what we’ve been up to.

Oliver Bruce:

The last but not least, Hugo: “Cleaned there, done that”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

That one’s dirty dog, surely?

Oliver Bruce:

Very good. Nine out of 10, nine out of 10. That’s not bad. That’s- you’re winning.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Not bad at all, do I get my prize?

Oliver Bruce:

If you accept the prize you do, and it’s only pride, but there you go. So well done on that.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Fantastic.

Oliver Bruce:

And how does it make you feel to sort of be summarised by such positive press in such a negative time?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It’s very inspiring to be described in such a way. You know, I think the press often, especially early days of lockdown, were very reluctant to write about anything that was good news. And we were very lucky to be able to create a great opportunity when everything was going really quite so wrong. But now obviously I think that the attitude has changed. People do want something a bit more optimistic, and obviously we’ve been able to provide those headlines for them and they just keep writing about it, which is brilliant for us.

Oliver Bruce:

And talk to me about the partnership with Ecotricity about creating that sustainable energy for ChargedUp. ‘Cause they’re a local business to where we’re based. And I’m interested to understand the journey there?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah. So early days of ChargedUp, we didn’t actually have a product. We were just literally figuring out what the business model was going to be. But something that was always very core to my thinking on this product was that it needed to be something that was beneficial to the environment and not causing further issues in terms of the climate crisis. So I reached out to the guys at Ecotricity and they were very good to us and backed us even before the product was developed and actually went and sponsored our entire network, placing Ecotricity logos on every single battery that we produced for the first year. And off the back of that, we were able to integrate with their renewable energy system, so that every time you rented one of our batteries, you were actually using Ecotricity energy in order to power that battery. So when the customers used it, they felt great because they were contributing to the green energy grid. And obviously we felt good because we were partnered with, you know, a very sustainable company. We’ve actually since gone on to work with Octopus Energy now, which is actually, I guess potentially slightly larger than Ecotricity is these days. And they, you know, have ambitions to go into many different countries like with us. So we’ve actually recently launched into Germany with them as well. But it’s the same concept.

Oliver Bruce:

Indeed. And obviously when you raised the, I suppose, series A investment with SETsquared, I believe, what was the process there? Because as far as I can with SETsquared, they work really with sort of blue-chip university sort of concepts, I suppose. Can anybody go to them to raise money or do you have to be at one of those universities?

Hugo Tilmouth:

So the very first money that we got into the business was from Exeter University, and the SETsquared Foundation, and they basically give you a very, very small amount of money, several thousand- you know, few thousand pounds, in order to help you validate an idea. So they were actually the first people to give us money, right at the beginning of the long journey that we’ve been on. We’ve since raised three rounds of investment, since that first cash that came in, and that’s all on an equity basis, whereas that first cash was very much just a “here’s some cash to kind of go and play with and see if you can build a business off the back of”, but I believe it is only for university students, but I may be wrong.

Oliver Bruce:

Right, okay. Because you later went on, as you said, to raise more money and the guys from the founders from Innocent Smoothie, another massive brand they invested in you guys as well, you raised, I think it was three and a half million in total, am I right in saying. Now it must be incredibly difficult to raise money with a concept, I suppose, that is yet to be, I suppose, I say validated to a certain extent. What was the process when raising that money or did you have a track record because of what you’d done through university?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Well once you start, like I said, it’s all about just kind of breaking down these walls. So the initial pitch, it was actually only for £200 grand, we were raising the money from a series of angels, and it was based off the fact that we built the product. We hadn’t actually launched it at that point, but we’d figured out how to manufacture them, how to build the app. So we had a working prototype, I guess you could call it, but no traction in the market. The only thing that was close to traction was that we’d gone to a festival and a series of bars and rented out power banks, quite literally just standard power banks that you could buy off Alibaba or Amazon or whatever. We put our little logo on it, and then we were renting them out, getting people to pay £10 via an iZettle card machine, and then if they returned it, they’d get a refund based on how long they kept the battery for. So it was probably the most low fi way of kind of MVPing the business, but it allowed us to raise that first bit of cash. It showed that people were willing and able to pay for our product, which is really the basis of any business is will people pay for this idea, if not, then you probably need to keep working at it. If they will, can you productise that and make that into something super scalable, which is what we then did with that cash. You know, we started producing the actual units, which obviously didn’t require a human operator, it’s not the most scalable thing in the world. And obviously we’ve now produced, you know, thousands of those units and deployed them, like you said, into about 50 cities across Europe.

Oliver Bruce:

So if I’m an entrepreneur, and I’ve got an idea like you had, but I don’t have the access to funding, I don’t have the access to SETsquared or any VCs or angels such as that. How would you go about starting your business? Would it be self-funding, you know, what would you have done in that situation?

Hugo Tilmouth:

I was obviously a university student at the time, so I didn’t actually have much money to put into the business. I think I put about 300 pounds in to buy those initial batteries from China, for our test at the festival. And that was about all I could afford to do at that point. But I think there is always ways to do it, you know, that £3 grand that we got from SETsquared, maybe that was based on being a university student, but the follow on funding that we got, we got money from O2 from a great competition which we managed to win. And I think we got about £10,000 pounds from that. Again, equity free and open to anyone. I think the only criteria was that you were building something that was good for the environment and the founder was under 35 or something along those lines. So really anyone could apply to that. The same is true for the other competition that we managed to win, which was Shell’s LiveWIRE competition. Again, you had to be a young founder and you have to be doing something good for the environment, but again, they gave us about £5,000. All of this, you know, it sounds like huge amounts of money at the time, it does go very quickly. So I would suggest that the next place to go is, you know, start talking to your network because whether or not, you know people that can invest, you may know people who know people who could invest in your business and it’s those second and third connections that people have that can really move the needle for your business. For example, one of our very earliest angels was one of my girlfriend’s mother’s second cousin’s friend.

Oliver Bruce:

Tenuous.

New Speaker:

Some ridiculous thing like that. And, you know, if you start putting out what you’re doing and telling people about what you’re doing, you know, they’ll have coffees with each other and you never know where those connections can lead. And obviously that bore fruit for us. And, uh, that chap’s now been on our board ever since, and has been a significant investor. And he was just the most tenuous link to the company at that point. So, you know, you never know where these people can come from.

Oliver Bruce:

So what would you say are the three things you need to absolutely have in place, regardless if you’re doing a friends and family fund, or you’re going to angels or VCs, if you’re wanting to raise money, what are the three things I need to have ready?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah. So the key things that any investor is going to look for is the business plan, which you could just sum up as a deck. And the deck is really what it’s all about because that contains the financial model and the traction to date. So those would be the three things, a deck, a traction, and a business plan, which is summarised into an Excel format, AKA a model. ‘Cause that’s all you need to raise that first round, and if you don’t have those three components, you’re really going to struggle to get started.

Oliver Bruce:

Indeed. And you moved to London after you graduated from university, you knew nobody in town. In hindsight, obviously businesses now are more accepting of being able to work anywhere in the country or the world. Do you think you’ll stay in London? What was the purpose for going to London in the first place?

Hugo Tilmouth:

We obviously moved to London because it was the most obvious place to launch a sharing economy business. It’s the highest density of people, the most bars, the most restaurants, the most suitable venues, and also the right type of demographic that are constantly out and about and used to using share bikes and other shared concepts like Ubers and et cetera. So it was a complete no brainer at the time. I think even today, going to a capital city is a great thing to do if you’re an early startup, because there is just that access to capital. You know, we are now obviously operating via Zoom and we’re able to do things remotely, but I do think there is a huge amount to be said for face-to-face meetings. And also investors seeing your products in the real world. We’ve got a number of investors approach us because they’ve seen our charging stations in their local pub, for example, and that, you know, you can’t really buy that. That is so valuable because they are then coming to you rather than the other way around.

Oliver Bruce:

You’re right. And I was walking around, and I’m based in Gloucestershire, but I was walking around the Cotswolds the other day, and your stations, your CleanedUp stations, were in every damn pub that I went to – it does make me sound like an alcoholic – but every pub that I went to, there were a number of your stations. And I thought, wow, it’s fascinating that you managed to get them out so quickly. You guys have been really hot on PR and marketing. Is that driven by you? Is that driven by the good ideas that you guys have come up with? What’s the strategy around that?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It’s an interesting one. We actually are predominantly a B2B brand, but we have a B2B to C element as well. So our marketing is very focused on attracting talent to the company at the moment because we’re hiring lots of people. We’re also trying to attract brands to work with us, and we’re also trying to work with more venues. So that is really what our marketing is focused on. And that’s why we focus a lot of our efforts on LinkedIn, which is our kind of core platform for engaging with new customers, new brands to work with as we scale up. But like you said, the CleanedUp proposition has now scaled up in such a rapid way that we received a stat from the team the other day that we are now actually in one third of all of the pubs in the UK, which is quite crazy.

Oliver Bruce:

It is incredible, genuinely. And what’s the plan with CleanedUp moving forwards? Obviously ChargedUp was your bread and butter, your baby back in the day, and now obviously, has that been overtaken by the success of CleanedUp, or is it still a pretty equal playing field?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah, sure. So the success of CleanedUp has been incredibly quick and something that we really did not anticipate. But the very purpose of CleanedUp has never been about just selling sanitiser to people. It’s about providing a service to all of our venue partners. So it’s the same people that take a ChargedUp station has taken a CleanedUp station. And what our mission has always been is to build the network and then create value for that network. And that’s exactly what the two propositions have done. It’s great that we’ve been able to sign the deals that we have over lockdown because, you know, we were staring down the barrel of potentially six months of no expansion, potentially contraction of the network and potentially contraction of revenue. We obviously have seen a lot of our pubs not yet reopen, but we are starting to see, you know, at least over half of our locations are back online and back operating at normal levels, which is great. And we’re obviously going to be pushing on getting as many of those back to normal as possible. And obviously a big part of bringing those pubs back is giving the customers the security to go back in, and that’s where the cleaned up proposition works so nicely.

Oliver Bruce:

And your investors, when you call them up at the beginning of the pandemic and said, “right, I know I do phone charging, but what I want to do now is wash people’s hands”. But what do they say to that? Were they like, “you’re mad Hugo, don’t bother doing that”?. Or did they go, “I like the again, entrepreneurial element”?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah that’s a great question. I think it really depends what your investor base expects from you. We are incredibly lucky to have very hands-off investors who ultimately trust us as operators to make the right decisions for our business. They really, will never tell us how to run the business. It is really just about guiding us and setting guardrails to help us keep focused on our main goal. And as I explained it to them, as I explained it to you just now, you know, we are looking at not being able to expand the ChargedUp business for, we didn’t know how long it would be. We’re now actually expanding the network again, which is great news, but we didn’t know how long that period would look like. So we came up with this alternative idea for how to expand the network, and that was CleanedUp. That was the product that people needed at the time. And obviously now we’ve been able to 10x the size of our network through lockdown, which I definitely would not be saying if we’d just stuck with the phone charging proposition.

Oliver Bruce:

Well it’s genius because of the cross sell. I mean, the relationships you’ll build through Network Rail or whoever it may be, I’m assuming it’s going to pay dividends essentially with ChargedUp?

Hugo Tilmouth:

That’s correct. Yes. And, you know, the wider vision for the company as well. So it’s a very exciting opportunity for us, and now we just need to make sure that we absolutely nail it.

Oliver Bruce:

So Hugo, talk to me a little bit about your dealings with the European countries, the 50 European countries that you’re getting into. And how I suppose Brexit, which is a term we’ve not spoken about much recently because of the pandemic, but how’s Brexit going to affect those 50 countries?

Hugo Tilmouth:

That’s a great question. We obviously went through that same thought process, end of last year, as we started to expand into the German market, or at least start our expansion plans. We, I think probably quite sensibly, set up an entity out in Germany as well. That is the company that we run all of our European operations through. So Germany is obviously the biggest market in Europe, and we saw it as a great opportunity to bring phone charging and the concept that we built into the UK into a new market. And all of the research that we did led to Germany as being the next opportunity.

Oliver Bruce:

It is interesting. And looking at your expansion on social media alone, it seems that you guys are genuinely going all guns. And with regards to the 10,000 sales in 10 minutes, which baffled me, in as much as I was watching your phone just explode, that was real was it?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It was indeed. Yeah, no Photoshop. It was a great day for us. I think it probably didn’t come across quite how excited I was in the video. It was very, very fun. We went live with a campaign with the guys at Diageo who are a multi billion dollar company. They own brands like Guinness and Smirnoff, and Gordon’s Gin, you know, the list goes on and on. Um, and the team decided that they really wanted to help reopen the on-trade, which is, you know, to normal people on-trade is pubs and bars, basically. And the industry had been absolutely decimated, you know, they’ve received a great amount of support now with, you know, Eat Out To Help Out and the VAT decreases and all of this good stuff that’s come up since, but in early days of lockdown, they were the hardest hit and they were also, it seemed like, the last to get reopened. So we teamed up with Diageo. They’d seen us absolutely rolling out units into the on-trade sector- into other sectors, and they very kindly decided to choose us as their partner, to then produce stations for every single pub in the UK. And like I said, we’ve now placed units into a third of the UK pubs. We’re also looking to try and expand that even further, because there’s more people that need the units that we’ve produced. And that day when all of those units came through, that was when we went live with the Diageo offer. So it was a very exciting day.

Oliver Bruce:

It did look exciting. It also looked almost- you watch those YouTube videos and you go, this is definitely set up, but knowing you and having spoken to you before, I did think it was real and well done for that. But I suppose speaking about, I suppose, when you launched; the pandemic – there were so many regulatory changes for any business, whatever you were in, whether that was things closing, things opening, new paperwork, new legislation, there was a lot of confusion. Did you make, in the early weeks of the pandemic, any mistakes, many mistakes, surely you made some?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Of course. The list of mistakes is probably the longest in the last three months, just because we were completely going into a brand new market. You know, we went to rogue suppliers who ended up letting us down, we worked with massive companies who also were too slow to move at the pace that we needed. You know, we’ve gone to foreign entities to try and get, you know, supplies into the UK. Again, none of it ended up working. But we managed to lock in with a brilliant manufacturer, both on the stations and on the sanitiser. And we’ve be partnered with both of them, you know, basically since the beginning now, because they’ve just been able to deliver, but the amount of mistakes and wasted money and time and stress that was caused, just because, you know, you’re literally figuring out a brand new business, you’re building a business in the space of weeks, when people usually do this over years, and you can really work out those mistakes as you go, but, you know, that’s all part of the process.

Oliver Bruce:

It’s part of that, you’re right. And I was going to say, how quickly after the concept was it that you actually launched your website and had this CleanedUp business model? Was it days? Was it hours? Was it weeks? ‘Cause it was pretty damn quick.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah I believe we went live with the website a matter of days after the initial decision to actually put some, you know, time and effort behind the CleanedUp opportunity. You know, we obviously have a lot of designers and developers in the company, so we’re able to spin up things like a website incredibly quickly, which puts us at an advantage. And then clearly with the experience that the team has in supply chains and manufacturing and logistics, all of these things came into their own when, you know, the time was just not on our side. And clearly it’s paid off because we’ve been able to ship, you know, tens of thousands of units in the spaces of just weeks.

Oliver Bruce:

It’s incredible. And the million pound a month, that must have been an incredible feeling for you. From an idea that was nothing a few weeks prior to making a million in revenue. What went through your head when you hit that milestone?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Well, the first thing was, this is brilliant for the team because it means I can actually bring them back from furlough and all of that kind of stuff. Because early days of lockdown, we were looking at, you know, reducing salaries for the team and putting people on furlough just to keep the company going, as all of our ChargedUp revenue had just dropped out. And I’m sure it’s a similar thing in your industry as well. It was a tough time for everyone. But we obviously were very happy once we’d hit certain milestones. We agreed with the team, if we hit this milestone, we will do X, Y, and Z. And obviously once we hit those, we were able to bring everyone back. We ended up actually hiring. We’ve hired now about 25 extra people into the company, because of the CleanedUp opportunity and all of the other opportunities that have come off the back of CleanedUp as well. So it’s been great for morale, it’s given everyone something to really drive towards when I guess a lot of industries are really suffering.

Oliver Bruce:

It is incredible. And the fact that the revenue was drying up, I suppose, obviously sort of shook you a little bit, obviously did the right thing by furloughing people. And how does ChargedUp generate revenue? Is it rental by the venue or rental by the consumer in the venue?

Hugo Tilmouth:

It’s actually the latter. So the customer, so let’s say you were in- you’re walking around on your pub crawl, like last weekend-

Oliver Bruce:

[laughs] Only one that I’ve ever done.

Hugo Tilmouth:

And you need to charge your phone and you pop into the venue. The venue will be hosting one of our stations. You then go up to it and you pay one pound an hour to borrow that battery via our app, and then you can actually take that battery with you and return it to any other station in the network. So the venue themselves do not have to pay for the unit. It’s actually just the end customer.

Oliver Bruce:

So you’re still very much engaged in both businesses. What does the next six to 12 months look like?

Hugo Tilmouth:

Yeah it’s an exciting time for us. We’re now trying to, you know, get ChargedUp into as many of the CleanedUp venues that we’ve acquired over the last, you know, three months or so as possible. And we’re looking at new business opportunities as well in those venues that we can actually launch as well. So it’s a very exciting time. We’ve got fundraising down the line as well, which is going to be a stressful period for myself because that is really my job and, you know, lots of other things to come watch this space.

Oliver Bruce:

Thank you very much for coming on this podcast today, it’s been really interesting to listen to you, and I wish you the best of luck with the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, albeit you are up against me.

Hugo Tilmouth:

[laughs] Thank you so much. I’ll see you in the duelling corner!

Oliver Bruce:

[laughs] Yes exactly with my friendly smile and congratulatory face on.

Hugo Tilmouth:

Brilliant. Thank you so much.

Oliver Bruce:

To find out more about CleanedUp or ChargedUp, head over to cleanedup.green or chargedup.green or equally head over to their social media, where there’s tonnes of inspiring content. Join me next week, where we’ll be discussing more about failures, mistakes, passion, and persistence with another inspiring owner entrepreneur who is currently in business. Thanks once again for listening, take care. If you’ve enjoyed this programme, then please show your support by subscribing via Apple podcasts and all other major podcast streaming services. Why not share it with at least three friends and of course, make sure you tune in next week. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show. Contact me via Twitter @OliverBruce_biz or via LinkedIn at Oliver Bruce online. Thank you. Success Is In The Mind is proud to have partnered with and be supported by the great British Entrepreneur Awards and Community. A programme that recognises, celebrates, supports, encourages and champions entrepreneurs in Great Britain.